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Holy Cross Day

Bulgaria is a country rooted in tradition and folklore with each month bringing a different reason to celebrate and be thankful. On September 14, Bulgarians celebrate the Holy Cross Day, which marks the start of a new season, Autumn. In ancient times this day signified both the time to return to work in the fields after enduring the burning summer sun and more importantly, the beginning of the grape harvest.

Locally the holiday is called Grozdobernik, which comes from the Bulgarian word for grape-picking. People in the villages around the Bulgarian wine producing regions celebrate by dressing up and singing traditional songs about grapes and wine.

Long ago at this time people would pick grapes together, staying until every last one had been dispatched to the vineyard. The harvesting of grapes in Bulgaria was once considered the responsibility of the village as a whole and many folk songs mourn the lack of caring, helpful neighbours to help with the work, in fact an old Bulgarian proverb quotes, "Don't buy a vineyard, but fine neighbours."

 

There are many tales and proverbs associated with this time of year. Holy Cross Day also carries connotations of fertility and some folk songs liken fertility to "a grape filling a basket, a vine root - a cart, a cart - a 13 kg cask." Another folk tale tells of the grapevine as a threadbare mother, whose children - the grapes - are handsome and well dressed, while wine is portrayed as a "naughty grandchild." The rich, young red wine that will fill the big barrels is also the subject of another tale of Red Petko, who "neither ploughs, nor plants, but is everyone's delight." Yet another proverb praises the hidden powers of wine in the following way, "The fist glass gives health, the second - joy, the third - excitement, the fourth - madness," whilst another warns of the dangers of drinking too much - one folk song recalls the fate of a young man who fell pray to the wine his wife gave him telling him it would make her better looking!

Wine plays a significant role in the celebrations with the grapes, the vine and the wine symbolizing prosperity and fertility. Young girls used to make garlands from vine branches, wheat or wild geraniums all of which used to be regarded as fertility signs.

According to some folk beliefs from the Thracian and Rhodope regions; you could only eat red grapes after Holy Cross Day. During church services on this day, grapes are placed beneath the holy cross and are blessed by the priest. This tradition used to be carried out in each home and owners would present the priest with newly harvested wheat after he had sprinkled holy water around the house and the threshing-floor.